MetroHealth Hospital, West 25th Street, Clark-Fulton, Cleveland
MetroHealth Hospital, West 25th Street in Cleveland's Clark-Fulton neighborhood. Credit: Paul Rochford / Signal Cleveland

A small legal win for MetroHealth

As MetroHealth System’s board of trustees continues to fend off two lawsuits brought against it by fired CEO Dr. Akram Boutros, it won a small victory this week. A Cuyahoga County judge ruled that Boutros’ claims that the board tried to intimidate him and retaliated against him lack merit. The judge wrote Boutros “could prove no set of facts.” The claims were made in a lawsuit filed in December by Boutros accusing the board of damaging his reputation.

The suit, which is still in play, seeks $20 million in damages. The board fired Boutros in November for awarding himself bonuses the board contends he was not entitled to receive. Boutros, who has repaid the bonuses while insisting the compensation was allowed, is also suing the board for violating open meeting laws. 

No jail settlement yet

The two buildings of the Cuyahoga County Jail rise above W. St. Clair Street and West Third in downtown Cleveland.
The Cuyahoga County jail is split across two buildings in the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland. Credit: Nick Castele / Signal Cleveland

Cuyahoga County says it needs more time to settle a long-running lawsuit over the jail. 

In a court filing, the county’s lawyers told U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver that they’ve drawn up a draft agreement with attorneys representing jail detainees.

But it will take another month to finalize the deal, “given the scope of this agreement, complexity of the subject matter, and changes in management structure at the County,” the filing says.

Settlement or no settlement, determining the future of the jail is one of the big early challenges on the plate of new County Executive Chris Ronayne.

Clerk Kazy?

Longtime Cleveland Municipal Court Clerk Earle B. Turner may have a challenger this year.

Cleveland City Council’s Brian Kazy has taken a first step toward running for clerk. The Ward 16 council member pulled petitions from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to put his name on the ballot this year. 

Kazy was appointed to his council seat in 2015 after Martin Sweeney decamped to the Ohio House. Now one of council’s more senior members, he chairs the Utilities Committee. 

Last year, Kazy and his colleagues questioned Turner over a $234,000 court contract with software company NashWest LLC. In a rare act of defiance, council voted the contract down, although it reversed itself two weeks later. Kazy voted no both times.

Turner, who oversees Cleveland Municipal Court operations, filed this week to run for a new six-year term. The deadline to file petitions is June 14. Voters will decide on a clerk in November.

Lending a hand and money

Cleveland is the newest home for a real estate consultant focused on lending money exclusively to nonprofits. Once known as the Illinois Facilities Fund, the Chicago-based IFF opened a four-person office here this month. While traditional lenders typically only finance up to 75 percent of a nonprofit’s project cost, IFF loans up to 95 percent. It also tries to erase remnants of redlining – the discriminatory practice of denying loans in low-income neighborhoods – by not basing its loan approvals on property appraisals. 

IFF has long been working with PRE4CLE, a partnership aimed at increasing the number of Cleveland children in preschool. 

IFF’s Cleveland office is headed by Meg Slifcak, who previously worked as deputy director of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. 

They come bearing gifts

Mayor Justin Bibb and Council President Blaine Griffin have this in common: according to their ethics disclosures, some of the same people are giving them gifts.

Professional sports teams, organized labor and tourism board Destination Cleveland appear on both men’s disclosures, which cover calendar year 2022. 

Bibb reported gifts from the Cavaliers, Guardians, North Shore AFL-CIO, the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council and Bricklayers Local 5, among others. Griffin’s list includes building trades chief Dave Wondolowski and officials from the Browns and Cavaliers. 

State law requires politicians to identify the sources of gifts valued at $75 or more, but that’s all. We’re left to guess what the gifts are. It’s legal for politicians to receive gifts, so long as those gifts aren’t given in exchange for official acts.

The telecom not taken

Former Cleveland mayoral candidate Sandra Williams visited City Hall this week to talk up the internet service offered by Spectrum. 

Williams, also a former state lawmaker, now works as Spectrum’s state director of government affairs. She told a City Council caucus meeting that her company had applied for – but didn’t win – the city’s $20 million broadband contract. 

Spectrum had proposed a broadband service for as low as $23 per account, she told council members.

The Bibb administration picked nonprofit DigitalC and privately owned SiFi Networks instead. DigitalC would use the $20 million to fund a major expansion of its $18-per-month wireless service. SiFi Networks is offering to pick up the tab for laying fiber optic cable throughout the city. 

Williams said Spectrum is available for Clevelanders now, and bringing in a new player would “overbuild” what’s here. Spectrum is already working with the Cleveland schools and the county public housing authority, she said. 

“From my company’s perspective – I mean, we’ve been here doing the work,” Williams said. 

To prove the point, Williams offered to share a Spectrum coverage map with council members – but said they would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

Two other big telecoms, AT&T and T-Mobile, also submitted proposals. So did a smattering of smaller companies, including the nonprofit PCs for People, which is doing similar broadband work for Cuyahoga County.

Comparing contracts

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s incoming CEO, Warren Morgan, is getting a four-year deal with a starting salary of $285,000, about $9,000 more than outgoing CEO Eric Gordon is being paid this year. In addition, Morgan will get a $750/month car allowance and up to $15,000 for relocation expenses. (Gordon does not receive a car allowance; he is reimbursed for mileage at the same rate as all district employees.)

Morgan’s salary is on par with those paid in other urban districts. The Cincinnati and Pittsburgh school districts pay their superintendent about $260,000. Morgan’s current boss, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, is paid $250,000.

Unlike Gordon’ contract, which spells out specific goals–such as decreasing chronic absenteeism by 1.1% annually–Morgan’s contract does not identify specific goals. Morgan’s contract requires him to meet with the board before Sept. 15 to hash that out (Gordon’s contract allows him to earn “performance-based bonuses” each year. Morgan’s contract, as it stands now, does not.)

Morgan received a separate 15-day contract that will pay him about $1,100 a day to transition into the job before his July 24 start date. Morgan will spend these days meeting with Gordon and board members to familiarize himself with the inner workings of the district.

Managing Editor, News (he/him)
Mark is a veteran journalist with experience in alternative media, print, digital and television news. For 19 years, he was a groundbreaking reporter and metro columnist with The Plain Dealer and Most recently, Mark spent three years as an investigative, enterprise and breaking news reporter at WKYC-TV, where his "Leading the Land" series on Cleveland's 2021 mayoral primary race earned a regional Emmy.

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.

Health Reporter (she/her)
Candice, a Cleveland Documenter since 2020, has been a freelance writer whose reporting and digital media work have appeared in The Daily Beast, VICE, Cleveland Magazine and elsewhere. She has written about health, equity and social justice.

K-12 Education Reporter (he/him)
Paul, a former City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps member based in a charter school, covered K-12 education for Signal Cleveland until August, 2023. Paul joined us from Cleveland Documenters, where he focused on creating infographics and civic tech to make public information more accessible. Paul is also a musician, photographer and graphic designer.